For many people, earning an MBA is the key to a bigger paycheck and loftier position in the workplace.
But if you're a woman or a person of color, an advanced degree still doesn't mean equal pay for equal work.
That's according to a recent study released by the Forté Foundation, a non-profit focused on helping women advance in business. The study, led by Michelle Wieser, Interim Dean School of Business at St. Catherine University, found that overall men and women of all races tend to see a 63 percent or more salary bump after earning an MBA.
But when comparing these salaries within the group, women and people of color still received lower pay than their white male counterparts, despite having equivalent credentials.
Elissa Sangster, CEO of the Forté Foundation, tells CNBC Make It that she believes the problem could be a mix of outright discrimination as well as unconscious bias in terms of how raises are awarded. She says more companies need to have serious conversations around how these decisions are being made and why "certain groups aren't getting promoted as fast or why they don't have as many people reporting to them."
"Companies need to call managers out and make them responsible for ensuring that equitable decisions are being made," she says. "I think companies need to have more intention around that, as well as looking at the whole pipeline to see how women and minorities are progressing up the chain in an organization and where they are being lost."
The study also found that women and minorities with an MBA experience less job satisfaction. For women, this unhappiness is linked to compensation and having little room for advancement in the workplace. But rather than addressing this pay gap with their boss, many of the women surveyed said, "I have not taken action and do not intend to" or "I left the company."
"The perception is there is probably not much I will get if I share my story, other than just ruffling some feathers," says Sangster. "So they just leave."
To fix the problem, she says employers need to "make sure they do everything they can to ensure a fair chance for women and minorities to advance in their company." If not, then she says organizations will continue to lose diverse talent and rather than "assuming the onus is just on the candidate, they should notice they have a problem and need to fix it."
Sangster admits that while many MBA programs do teach students about salary negotiations, there are several outside factors that also come into play when considering a woman or a minority's advancement at work.
"There are so many factors at play within an organization and also with the way the world works in terms of who has the most responsibilities outside of the workplace," she says. "For white men, salary is the leading factor. But, for women and minorities, it is often one of many."
Sangster says a woman may be less likely to address a pay gap if they're working for a company that offers a certain level of convenience like being close to childcare. In this case, she says a woman may look at "salary as one piece of the puzzle" rather than the driving factor.
According to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development, each day men and women in the United States spend 150.2 minutes and 243.2 minutes, respectively, doing unpaid labor. Lauren McGoodwin, CEO and founder of Career Contessa and creator of The Salary Project, told CNBC Make It last April that this means women have less time for paid work due to the responsibility of household chores.
"This ends up robbing women of their potential for advancing within their careers, earning a higher salary and contributing enormously to the economy's growth through their paid jobs," she says.
Salary may not be the only factor that drives some women and minorities to a job, but Sangster says she still advises all employees to take it upon themselves to make sure they are getting paid what they're worth.
"Stay up-to-date on your market value," she says. "Know how to negotiate and don't go in cold. Go in prepared to have a discussion with your manager."
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